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Patience is key for Damian Barton to succeed at Derry, insists Cassidy

By John Campbell

As a muscular yet subtly creative centre-half-forward in the Derry side that won the All-Ireland title for the only time in their history in 1993, Damien Barton deployed his physical attributes and uncompromising mental strength well.

Now he will require that same mental strength in abundance as he sets about striving to restore the fortunes of a Derry side that have slumbered in the shadows for a number of years while a handful of other Ulster counties have basked in the limelight.

Not since 1998 has the Ulster title taken up residence in the Oak Leaf County, a statistic that triggers embarrassment, frustration and anger in almost equal measure.

Yet even though he comes in as new team manager without any inter-county experience in the role, Barton's single-mindedness, feisty spirit and purposeful outlook could prove his biggest assets for what is the most demanding challenge of his sporting life.

The last two Derry managers, Brian McIver and John Brennan, vacated their posts in the immediate aftermath of ignominious All-Ireland qualifier defeats to Galway and Longford respectively and Barton will be particularly keen to avoid this fate.

If a lack of even modest progress in the All-Ireland series has led to a gnashing of teeth in Derry, then the dominance of teams such as Tyrone, Armagh, Donegal and Monaghan on the Ulster Championship stage since the onset of the Noughties has been almost unbearable.

It's against this backdrop that Barton will attempt to rekindle the flame of ambition - and another former Derry boss, Damian Cassidy, his half-forward colleague from that successful 1993 team, believes that he can work the oracle if given time.

"There is going to be no quick-fix in Derry," predicted Cassidy, who was in charge of the Oak Leaf side from 2009-10.

"There is no doubt, though, that there is a lot of young talent emerging when you consider that the Ulster Minor Championship title has come to the county this year and that Watty Graham's, Glen have won the Ulster Minor Club title for the past four years.

"But these players will need time to develop physically in terms of their conditioning. When you look at the more successful teams now, you automatically note that the central spine of such teams contain physically powerful men who can set the tone for their performances.

"This is one of the challenges facing Damien - he will know that he must get players who can meet the increased demands imposed by the greater intensity, pace and physicality of the modern game."

Cassidy urges Derry followers to exercise patience as they focus on an improvement in their team's fortunes.

"We have to remember that other teams, in addition to those at the very top, are moving onwards in terms of physical development, strategy and indeed their whole approach to major matches," pointed out Cassidy.

"But Dublin could be said to be the prototype team. Even their half-forward line of Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly and Ciaran Kilkenny is comprised of big, imposing men who hit hard and are difficult to dispossess.

"In the Derry team that won the 1993 All-Ireland, we had two giants at midfield in Anthony Tohill and Brian McGilligan while Danny Quinn was a rock at full-back and Damien himself carried great presence so our central spine was very effective and that's what you still need.

"But Derry do not just need big, physically imposing players - they need them to be able to play football, be tactically aware, and to be shrewd."

Cassidy believes that Barton's sense of purpose will prove a driving force.

"He will want to get the best from his players and stamp his own personality and that's how it should be. While there will be no overnight miracle, the portents for future progress look good," added Cassidy.

Belfast Telegraph


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